Jones v. Chatham County, Nos. A96A0766

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtPOPE; SMITH, J., and HAROLD R. BANKE
Citation223 Ga.App. 455,477 S.E.2d 889
Parties, 96 FCDR 3916 JONES v. CHATHAM COUNTY, Georgia et al. POWERS v. JONES.
Decision Date05 November 1996
Docket NumberA96A1339,Nos. A96A0766

Page 889

477 S.E.2d 889
223 Ga.App. 455, 96 FCDR 3916
JONES

v.
CHATHAM COUNTY, Georgia et al.
POWERS
v.
JONES.
Nos. A96A0766, A96A1339.
Court of Appeals of Georgia.
Nov. 5, 1996.

Page 890

[223 Ga.App. 459] McCorkle, Pedigo & Johnson, David H. Johnson, Savannah, for Jones.

Emily E. Garrard, Savannah, for Powers.

[223 Ga.App. 460] Ranitz, Mahoney, Coolidge & Mahoney, Thomas J. Mahoney, Jr., Savannah, for Chatham County.

[223 Ga.App. 455] POPE, Presiding Judge.

Plaintiff Lujane Jones worked for defendants in the County Tax Commissioner's office. When the Commissioner discovered Jones had engaged in unacceptable personal conduct, she gave Jones the choice of resigning or being fired. Jones resigned, but subsequently brought this suit, alleging that the termination without a hearing constituted a violation of her right to procedural due process as well as a breach of contract. In Case No. A96A0766, Jones appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment for all defendants on her constitutional claim; and in Case No. A96A1339, defendant Powers, the current Tax Commissioner, appeals from the denial of his motion for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. Because the available post-termination procedures cured the employer's failure to have a pre-termination hearing, we affirm the grant of summary judgment for defendants on the procedural due process claim. We reverse the denial of Powers' motion for summary judgment, however, as an employer's failure to follow termination procedures in a personnel manual is not actionable under Georgia law.

Plaintiff worked in the delinquent tax division, where it was her responsibility to schedule periodic sales of properties whose owners had not paid their taxes. Based on information from one of plaintiff's co-workers, the operations manager ("Gorman") initiated an investigation which showed that plaintiff had failed to pay taxes on properties she owned, had moved the documentation on these properties from the general files to her own desk drawer, and had marked her properties off the list of those to be sold. Gorman then told the Tax Commissioner, who decided that plaintiff (as well as her immediate supervisor, who had done the same thing) had to resign or be fired.

Page 891

On April 25, 1994, Gorman confronted plaintiff about her unacceptable behavior and asked for an explanation. Plaintiff did not deny the allegations, but said she was having financial problems. During that same meeting, Gorman gave plaintiff a resignation letter and a termination letter and told her to sign one of them. According to Gorman, the termination letter informed plaintiff of her right [223 Ga.App. 456] to appeal an involuntary termination; but according to plaintiff, it did not.

Plaintiff signed the letter of resignation. That same day, however, she contacted the Personnel Advisory Board and told them she wanted to appeal the Commissioner's decision. On June 15, 1994, the Board informed plaintiff they would hear her appeal even though she had signed a letter of resignation. But the hearing was not held until October 11, 1994, for several reasons: the attorneys were trying to resolve the dispute without a hearing; the GBI was investigating the Tax Commissioner's office during this period, and the Tax Commissioner resigned; and the Board, which is all volunteer, ran into scheduling problems, both with Board members and with witnesses. By the time the hearing was scheduled, plaintiff had just filed this suit (it had not yet been served on defendants), and refused to participate.

Case No. A96A0766

Plaintiff argues that defendants violated her right to procedural due process by terminating her without a hearing, and that this violation was not cured by offering her a posttermination hearing five months later.

1. We first address whether plaintiff's resignation was sufficiently involuntary to trigger the protections of the due process clause. Plaintiff signed a resignation letter, and for purposes of due process analysis, public employee resignations are presumed to be voluntary. See Hargray v. City of Hallandale, 57 F.3d 1560, 1568 (11th Cir.1995). That an employee must choose between resignation and a comparably unpleasant alternative does not render his choice involuntary. Id. If he knows he could "stand pat and fight" but chooses to avoid the stigma of firing by resigning instead, he is bound by his choice and is not entitled to a hearing. Id.; see also Christie v. United States, 207 Ct.Cl. 333, 518 F.2d 584, 587 (1975). But this choice must be based on an awareness of the charges against him and his right to a hearing if he does not resign. See Burch v. Rame, 676 F.Supp. 1218, 1228 (S.D.Ga.1988). In this case, there is a factual dispute about whether plaintiff was informed of her right to appeal an involuntary termination (i.e., of the right she would be waiving by signing the letter of resignation). Accordingly, the trial court properly denied summary judgment on this issue.

2. Where, as here, a public employee has a property interest in her continued employment, 1 some type of pre-termination hearing is [223 Ga.App. 457] required. See Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532,...

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20 practice notes
  • Caley v. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., No. CIV.A. 1:03-CV-3486-ODE.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • 24 Agosto 2004
    ...not contracts of employment; failure to follow the termination procedures contained in them is not actionable." Jones v. Chatham County, 223 Ga.App. 455, 477 S.E.2d 889, 893 (1996). Such employer policies do not represent enforceable contracts based on Georgia's strict adherence to the empl......
  • Wilson v. Clark Atlanta Univ., Inc., A16A0996
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 17 Noviembre 2016
    ...that this was read to the jury at the beginning of the trial as well.6 For the same reason, our opinion in Jones v. Chatham County , 223 Ga.App. 455, 459 (5), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996) does not control. That case stands for the proposition that a personnel manual, standing alone, does not creat......
  • Joiner v. Glenn, No. S10A1267.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 8 Noviembre 2010
    ...section 1983 when the state court review of her termination provided an adequate remedy under state law"); Jones v. Chatham County, 223 Ga.App. 455, 457(3), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996) ("the deprivation resulting from a failure to have a ... hearing does not ripen into a procedural due process vi......
  • Schumacher v. City of Roswell, A16A0582.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 27 Diciembre 2017
    ...588. See Gregory v. Sexual Offender Registration Review Bd. , 298 Ga. 675, 690 (3), 784 S.E.2d 392 (2016) ; Jones v. Chatham County , 223 Ga. App. 455, 457 (3), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996). See also Pryor Organization v. Stewart , 274 Ga. 487, 491 (3), 554 S.E.2d 132 (2001) ("An initial procedura......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Caley v. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., No. CIV.A. 1:03-CV-3486-ODE.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • 24 Agosto 2004
    ...not contracts of employment; failure to follow the termination procedures contained in them is not actionable." Jones v. Chatham County, 223 Ga.App. 455, 477 S.E.2d 889, 893 (1996). Such employer policies do not represent enforceable contracts based on Georgia's strict adherence to the empl......
  • Wilson v. Clark Atlanta Univ., Inc., A16A0996
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 17 Noviembre 2016
    ...that this was read to the jury at the beginning of the trial as well.6 For the same reason, our opinion in Jones v. Chatham County , 223 Ga.App. 455, 459 (5), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996) does not control. That case stands for the proposition that a personnel manual, standing alone, does not creat......
  • Joiner v. Glenn, No. S10A1267.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 8 Noviembre 2010
    ...section 1983 when the state court review of her termination provided an adequate remedy under state law"); Jones v. Chatham County, 223 Ga.App. 455, 457(3), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996) ("the deprivation resulting from a failure to have a ... hearing does not ripen into a procedural due process vi......
  • Schumacher v. City of Roswell, A16A0582.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 27 Diciembre 2017
    ...588. See Gregory v. Sexual Offender Registration Review Bd. , 298 Ga. 675, 690 (3), 784 S.E.2d 392 (2016) ; Jones v. Chatham County , 223 Ga. App. 455, 457 (3), 477 S.E.2d 889 (1996). See also Pryor Organization v. Stewart , 274 Ga. 487, 491 (3), 554 S.E.2d 132 (2001) ("An initial procedura......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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